After almost two months since closing its doors, the Bloomery Sweetshine Distillery in Jefferson County reopened this weekend after a successful cry for help to West Virginia lawmakers.
During this year’s legislative session, the Bloomery Sweetshine Distillery closed after years of being classified as a retail liquor store. The distillery owners claimed this as a misclassification and said it was costing them too much money, killing their business. The distillery closed in early February and the owners said they wouldn’t reopen until the issue was addressed by lawmakers.
“It was an overwhelming heartache. It was so drastic for us to make that decision,” said Linda Losey, co-founder and one of three co-owners of Bloomery Sweetshine, "You know we’ve been funding the distillery for three years out of pocket and trying to get to profitability, and it was really affecting our relationships, our hearts to keep opening and losing and losing and losing because we absolutely, absolutely love what we do, and what we do for this community and for our fans and how they react to us. So for us to, to make the decision to close, we had to make it for the financial reasons, but it really was a drastic decision, and to put seventeen people out of work, that’s what was the killer for us.”
The Bloomery Sweetshine owners estimate it has attracted more than 50,000 tourists to West Virginia since it opened in 2011, some of which were from outside the US. All of its liqueurs are made on site and by hand, and most of the fruits and nuts used in the drinks are grown on site or are sourced within the local community. The distillery offers tastings and the option of buying their products on the premises.
Rob Losey is co-owner and in charge of sales and marketing. He says the decision to close the distillery surprised their local legislators.
“I think that it was also, it was received well by every one of our legislators," Rob noted, "and that trying to figure out a way to help us, and really to help our county. I mean, one of the things that we do is we bring in a number of tourists, and you know, we’re someplace that people from out of state find as a destination, so they come to visit us and then they spend some time in the county and leave some tax revenue behind. And I think that, that was recognized and that we were, you know, that we were a bit of a shining star in our area, and it was something not to be lost.”
In light of the news of the distillery’s closing, legislators began putting together a bill that would help Bloomery Sweetshine and other distilleries and mini-distilleries like it. Senate Bill 574 was the answer. The bill will reclassify distilleries in the state and give some tax and management fee relief to those owners. It would also raise the production level allowed for mini-distilleries.
Governor Tomblin signed Senate bill 574 on March 31st and it will go into effect on June 12th.
The owners of Bloomery Sweetshine Distillery were elated by the news, but Tom Kiefer, co-founder and co-owner says their closing was not a ruse.
“We didn’t close the doors to send a message that was unintended. We closed the doors, cause we couldn’t afford to stay open, so I don’t agree that a business should close down just to make a stand and fight for reduced taxes," Kiefer explained, "I mean for us it was, as Linda had said earlier a do or die situation, and the fact that we were dying on the vine cause we always had to supplement every month the business that occurred in the tasting room, just was not an affordable way to continue on.”
Linda says it was ultimately the response from their fans that drove the message home to legislators.
“One of the strengths we had behind us was our fan base, and so if a small business is absolutely feeling the pinch of government regulations and it’s killing the business, then I don’t disagree that you have to somehow contact the legislators and get help, because it’s nearly impossible to do it without the legislative action that is required to put laws into effect that will help the small businesses,” Linda said.
During Bloomery Sweetshine Distillery’s reopening Saturday, it offered tastings to more than 350, most of which visited the distillery for the first time. The owners say they are satisfied with the response from lawmakers and are excited for the effect of Senate Bill 574 in June.
Next year, the owners plan to push lawmakers for another bill, one that will allow them to sell their products on Sundays.